Rover 2000 TC

comparison test with BMW 2002 and Triumph 2.5 PI

Every serious motoring observer knows how Munich“s BMW concern came close to disaster and of its subsequent spectacular rise from the ashes over the last few years, just as he is equally familiar with the more restrained return from senility of Rover with its highly successful 2000 series. And he will be aware that Triumph is also making some pretty worthwhile cars nowadays after plugging on with exceedingly boring ones in the past.

These three names compete with one another in the lucrative executive-saloon area of the British market; indeed they have been actively exploiting this field. Their approaches in terms of design are similar but far from identical, although it is very evident just how cut-throat the market place can be when prices are mentioned.

And in the cases of the respective high-performance versions of the base models the infighting is closer still. Rover“s 2000 TC and Triumph“s 2.5 PI are identical in price at £1867, despite a £132 difference (in the Triumph“s favour) when you compare the basic 2000s from which they are derived. Ranged against them - and in many ways more than their match - BMW has its 2002 priced at just £7 above the British competition at £1874. It may not convay the air of luxury that the Rover and Triumph contrive to exude but it more than compensates in the performance and handling stakes - which is the other half of the appeal of these so-called executive saloons.

Not that the BMW owes its success in being a much later design: all three cars can trace their design history back a decade or so ago at the very least.

The Rover and the Triumph first appeared in 1963 and set the pattern for well appointed two-litre saloons. Since then the Rover has remained virtually unchanged, the TC (for twin-carburettor) coming along to counter valid criticism that the SC was,, and is, underpowered; the only alteration of note came last autumn when the factory saw fit to temper with one of the best facias in the business and went on to spoil the front grille and bonnet line for an encore.

The Triumph on the other hand has led a less sheltered existence. It has been through one partial restyling and now comes with an optional, enlarged, fuel injection version of the standard engine; with this its name changes to 2.5 (for litres) and PI (for petrol injection). Basically, though, and especially where the suspension, steering and brakes are concerned, it is little different from the original 2000s.

The BMW reached the British market in 1968, having been available on left-hand drive markets for some time before that. It may seem a much newer car, but in fact is an amalgam of rather older components. The single overhead cam engine, for instance, was a foundation stone of BMW“s recovery while the body shell is that of the 1600 saloon, introduced to keep the firm going in that end of market while it made hay with the 2000 and laid its plans for the 2500/2800. The 1600 used running gear similar to the 2000“s and possessed handling qualities far in excess of its performance potential. It cried out for the extra muscle of the 2000 engine and, when the benefit came, turned into a car that topped even the most optimistic expectations. The 2002 is a driver“s car in the true sense of the clické, able to put up cross-country averages that it takes a good (and considerably more expensive) sports/GT car to beat.

Styling and Engineering

Although starting to look dated (or is it just overfamiliar?) the Rover remains a prime example of just what can be achieved by the British motor industry“s own stylists. The Triumph was originally Michelotti-designed so naturally enough, perhaps, BLMC turned to him when a facelift was wanted for the autumn motor show season of 1969. With an eye to the soaring costs of new body dies, he revamped the ends of the shell while leaving the middle largely untouched. The Triumph gains visually from its generous external dimensions whereas the Rover is similar in width and height - though a few inches shorter - and impresses as a well proportioned design. The BMW, conversely, does not. In width and height it is little different from the British cars, but length is a good deal less so that the overall impression is slightly ungainly. The effect is heightened by the large area of glass and the correspondingly disproportionate gap between waist and roof. Compared to the 2000s, the 2500/2800 range and the coupé shell, the 1600/2002 is very much the ugly duckling of the BMW family; albeit, a very popular ugly duckling.


But what it lacks in looks it more than makes up for in engineering. The chunky-looking four-cylinder, five-main bearing engine is the mechanical basis of all BMWs. A crossflow head carries a single-chain-driven camshaft operating inclined valves through two rows of rockers. The valves open into a combustion chamber of modified hemispherical layout. Carburation is by a single Solex. Bore and stroke are over-square, at 89 by 80mm to give 1990cc.


The Rover“s power unit is similar; it is a single overhead cam with five bearings, the valves are in line and bore and stroke are identical at 85,7mm to give 1978cc. Compression ratio is a highish 10 to one, and carburation is by a pair of those trusty SUs.


By comparison the Triumph“s engine is unsophisticated almost to the point of vulgarity, for it is a four-bearing six with pushrod-operated valves. Designed originally for the last of the Standard Vanguards and used now for the GT6, Vitesse and 2000, it has a longer stroke in its 2,5 application, taking the measurements out to 74,4 by 95mm and capacity to 2498cc Its saving grace lies in the use of the tried, efficient Lucas mechanical fuel injection.


Combined with an extra 500cc above the stock 2000“s capacity and better breathing, the 2.5 PI gives a near-50percent boost in power, taking it up to 132 bhp at 5450 rpm. The Rover in TC form provides a relatively smaller gain over its parent 2000. Dual carburettors and generally improved breathing raise peak power by a little over 25percent to 114 bhp a 5500 rpm. The BMW engine is the cooking one and produces what appears to be a modest 1000 bhp at 5500 rpm.


If the BMW appears down on power remember that West Germany has stringently-applied trade description laws and that, judging from the results of our maximum-speed tests, some of these British horses tend to lose their own way on route to the back wheels. They should not get diverted in the transmission, though, for all three cars came as standard with straightforward four-speed manuals. Overdrive is an extra cost option on the Triumph but not on the other two. Automatic gearboxes are available for the Triumph and BMW (the latter at a staggering £199 extra) but not the Rover.


Coil spring suspension is common to all three and the BMW and Triumph also share MacPherson strut front ends and semi-trailing arms in the rear. The Rover diverges completely, not only from its two rivals but also from practically anything else on the market. In its suspension design it is clearly the work of some remarkably level-headed engineers, untrammelled by many preconceived ideas or by the need to use existing components. This clean sheet of paper approach resulted in something approximating wishbone geometry for the front end but with the springs operating through longitudinal top links so that they could be placed horizontally and longitudinally, feeding back loads direct into the massive structure of the scuttle bulkhead. For good measure the links are angled to reduce nose dive under braking. At the back, convention is left even further behind with a de Dion axle that telescopes to allow for track variations during roll. In turn these are induced by the use of solid non-splined half-shafts, the principle being that minor track changes are preferable to the presence of splines which can bind under acceleration to lock the suspension solid, as well as being a potential source of transmission clonk. The de Dion tube is located fore and aft by Watt“s linkages.


Only the Rover takes advantage of the chassis-mounted differential to fit inboard disc rear brakes. Unusually, they are larger - in diameter, but slimmer - than the front ones. Triumph and BMW stick to inboard drums at the back with discs for the front.


Power assistance is an optional extra for the Triumph“s rack-and-pinton steering that is not available on the worm and roller systems of the Rover and BMW. The Triumph and BMW share normal steel unitary construction body shells, the former with four doors and the latter with two. The four-door Rover, diverging again, is welded up in the form of a skeleral steel structure to which all the mechanical components are attached before being clothed with an outer skin that forms the visible body. The result is a car that is less susceptible to major structural damage in minor accidents and is likely to incur a smaller bill at the repair shop. The bonnet and boot lid are aluminium.


Use of Space

The BMW makes the best use of space available, if only because it is a substantially shorter car than either of its rivals yet can still carry four adults in comfort plus a reasonable amount of luggage. The British importer puts a Coupé tag on to its title but, in fact the 2002 is no more or less than a compact saloon with two doors. Legroom is better than you might expect in a car less that 14ft long, and headroom is as generous as the inordinarely high roofline leads you to anticipate. Sufficient back seat elbow room is achieved by hollowing out the panels above the armrests. The Rover is also a four-seater, but goes a step further than the German car by being an unequivocal one. The original 2000 was the first saloon of its kind to recognise that most drivers seldom have more than two or three passengers and only very rarely want to carry more than three. So the back is designed as two individual seats. The Triumph has a more normal back seat, ,suitable for two and a half adults. Back seat legroom is usually the first dimension to suffer when it comes to squashing people, luggage and engine into a given length. In the BMW an acceptable amount of this commodity has been retained, and naturally it abounds in the lengthy Triumph. In the Rover rear passengers feel more cramped than simple dimensions suggest unless the front seats are well forward.


Despite its overall size the Triumph seems rather lacking in boot space. The Rover gives you less room, even with the extra-cost kit that mounts the spare wheel outside the boot lid, and it does away with the rear sill that hampers loading operations in the Triumph. The BMW is best of all, though, if you can forgive its high sill. The huge lid lifts up to expose a gratifyingly large cavity - bigger than either of its rivals - and moore roomy than in most cars of similar overall size. All three allegedly have space-saving rear-suspension systems, but only the BMW takes full advantage of the possibilities.


Down at the other end it does a similarly effective job of fitting a tall and bulky engine into the space available without making things look too cramped. The engine is canted sharply in the right to leave space for the carburettor and air cleaner and at the same time provide a smoothly curved induction tract. The Rover has more than enough space for its compact power unit. The unconventional location of the spring damper units leaves surplus width that goes to waste in the 2000 TC (but is very welcome for the V8 installation in the 3500 edition). The Triumph needs all of its long bonnet for its slender six and width, too, is in demand for the fuel injection equipment. Instead of the neat double-carburettor set-up of the 2000 the 2.5 has six inlet stubs curving out from the head and into a large air box running down the right-hand side of the engine.


Comfort and Safety

There is little about the BMW“s interior to give away the sporting side of its charakter. The reclining front seats, for instance, provide the acceptable minimum of lateral grip and in the Rover, too, the temptation to boy-racerise the cockpit has been resisted. The Rover seats do, however, offer more sideways support than the BMW“s. And, as in the BMW, they are high mounted, making the already excellent all round visibility seem even better. The Triumph seats are lower and with less lateral grip than the Rover. In all three the seats give sufficient support over a wide area of the body to prevent aches and pains on a long day“s drive. We especially liked the Rover“s ultra-simple friction-clutch method of reclining the back rests although we were less enthusiastic about its slippery leather upholstery.


Each one of the trio scored highly in matters of the layout of controls. The Rover has an unfashionably large diameter steering wheel but compensates with rake adjustment controlled by a knob down on the column. The gear lever, with lift-up collar guarding reverse, is a splendidly short, ragid lever with the handbrake right next to it, while the pedals are nicely placed for heel and toeing. Pedal positioning is also satisfactory on the BMW now that some attention has been paid to it by the engineers. Mounted high and well away from the facia, we found the steering wheel odd in its location but the positions of gear and handbrake levers are beyond criticism. The BMW“s control layout suits tall men best, while that of the Rover is most comfortable for those of average height and below. The Triumph manages to satisfy the entire range of stature, aided, like the Rover, by a steering wheel adjustable for rake and secured by a quick release clamp. Last autumn“s alterations to the Rover“s facia have done little to improve it. The plain round speedo and tachometer are clearer than the ribbon speedo and separate rev-counter of yore, perhaps, but the quickly memorised, differently shaped switches have been replaced by identical ones placed in a row and therefore confusable in the dark. One area where improvement would have been welcome is the steering column stalk switches; they control so many functions that it“s too easy to get a toot when you wanted a dip... The Triumph still has the minor controls about which we enthused on the 2000 Mark Two, though again most drivers would welcome a reduction in the number of column-mounted controls. Stalks abound also on the BMW - well, there are two of them - but the other minor operations have been simplified down to a bare minimum of knobs and switches. Imstrumentation comprises a matched speedo and tachometer, plus another dial for a modicum of information about the other essential and not so essential services.


All three cars were commendably free of wind-excited noise, at least up to 80 mph, though the BMW in particular tails off quickly above this figure. The Rover and BMW were prone to a limited but nonetheless occasionally audible degree of tyre thump, once a prominent bugbear of the Rover. Engine noise levels, which were inordinately high in earlier 2000 TC“s, have now been reduced to an acceptable level although, as in the BMW, the power unit still produce a hard, thrumming roar when on full throttle or near the top of the rev range. The Triumph ist the quietest and smoothest of the three. It is also at least a match for its competitors in matters of heating and ventilation. Its systems are comprehensive and versatile, as well as being quite finely adjustable. The Rover is nearly as good, being spoiled by feeble face-level fresh air outlets. The BMW lags behind with its rather indifferent provision for ventilation.


In spite of having fractionally firmer suspension the Rover still manages to give its occupants a ride as comfortable as that of the softly sprung Triumph and does so with much less lean on corners. The BMW is even less roll prone but its ride is that much harder.


Safety has always been a strong point of the Rover 2000 range although in such matters as collapsibility of engine and luggage compartments, strength of passenger compartment, roof and screen pillars, it is today matched by an increasing number of its rivals. Even so, there is much evidence of intelligent attention to detail, as in the padded leg-protecting shinbins and in the small (but misleadingly wide angle) rear view mirror. Yet in such matters as the use of crushable material around the cockpit, recessed or deformable protrusions, telescopic steering columns and so on a mixture of commonsense, experience, and the US safety regulations have let other manufacturers catch up.


Performance, Handling, Brakes

All three cars started easily from cold on their manual chokes. The Triumph offers dire warnings on windscreen stickers about continuing to run the engine if it persists in misfiring after firing up (ours didn“t) and about leaving the ignition on with the engine not running (fuel may be pumped through an open injector to collect in the head and seep explosively down to the crankcase). The Rover, incidentally, matches its manual choke with a pull-out knob for a reserve fuel supply. The BMW also has a fuel reserve. Both the Rover and the BMW picked up and pulled strongly right away, but the Triumph was unduly sensitive in rich mixture settings. Once warmed up, though, the 2.5 PI ran with smoothness and flexibility and gave instantaneous throttle response in a way that no carburettor engine can match.


The heron-headed Rover felt harsh and rough when working hard. Partly as a result of a none-too-flat torque curve and partly because of high gearing it proved far from flexible, being at its happiest when kept on the boil with lots of gearchanging. The change action was nicer than the notchy one on the Triumph if not as slick and positive as the BMW“s. As well as being a poor puller in the high gears the Rover emphasised in unwillingness to slog by being prone to transmission snatch if driven sloppily.


The BMW proved to be in a different class altogether. Its excellent engine has a generously spread range of really meaty torque and will, if you insist, make short work of accelerating in third and top from ridiculously low speeds. It performs just as well at the other end; the peak of the power curve falls away slowly and the test car was still breathing freely as it rushed into the red at 6500 rpm.


Considering this, we were surprised that the acceleration times of the much lighter BMW did not look even better when compared to its rivals. Still, from 60 mph upwards it moves away quickly and it is still pulling hard as it nears its maximum whereas the British pair are labouring at anything much above 100 and take what feels like infinity to struggle up the last few mph. The BMW, thanks to better gearing and aerodynamics, you might presume, matches straight up there - in spite of having anything up to 52percent less power to propel a roughly similar from area. The generally superior efficiency of the BMW is underlined by fuel consumption figures - a little better than the Rover (which demands five star petrol) and well ahead of the heavier, bigger-engined and less efficient Triumph.


The German car tends to lead in matters of handling. Its cornering power, measured in terms of lateral acceleration, is ahead of the TC. Rover, remember, set new standards in its class when first introduced and remain a first class roadholder today. The Triumph falls a long way behind in its area, as it does in handling. The three run the gamut of understeer from the almost exaggerated behaviour of the Triumph through the still strong characteristic of the Rover to the mild understeer (easily throttle-adjusted to neutral, or even oversteer) of the BMW. All three change, as the limit is approached, to oversteer, the BMW doing so quite quickly, the others less so. Steering on the Triumph is unexceptional. The Rover“s steering is light and well damped but somehow lacking in the finer degree of road feel. We preferred the BMW“s which in light, into the bargain - certainly a good deal lighter than we remember from early 2002s. Overall, the BMW has by far the best handling. The Rover is acceptably stable (unlike the BMW, which can be unsettled by a crosswind), very manageable and forgiving, but it does not present the standing invitation to fast driving that comes from the BMW. The Triumph clings to the road better than its wallowing body roll leads you to expect but its size and generally soft nature combine with soft, under-damped springing to dissuade most drivers from anything other than a straid style.


In braking tests the Rover comes out on top, being less prone to fade than the others. The Triumph was more progressive still, but it could not achieve a 1g stop during our trials. The BMW managed 1g stops at first, then began to fade rapidly when just over halfway through the test. The brakes soon recovered themselves but disturbed us by departing and reappearing very unevenly. Their action was also far from progressive.


In conclusion

Cars like this trio are taking an ever increasing share of the market and after prolonged experience of them it is not difficult to see why. Even the least agile of them can match the majority of similarly priced sports cars in many respects, while a good one like the BMW will leave them standing. At the same time they provide high standards of comfort, carrying capacity, sobriety of appearance and reasonably low prices.


The most successful of these sports saloons are those like the Rover, which were designed for the job, or the BMW, which sprang from a particularly well informed, sporting-minded design team. Those like the Triumph, developed from simpler beginnings, show up less well when pushed hard.


As enthusiastic drivers we preferred the BMW but we can see that a motorist who puts more store by sumptuous looks, both inside and out, will prefer the Triumph. At best, the BMW is certainly an unexciting car with nothing to give away the other side of its character. The Rover fits neatly between the two in this as it does in most things.


We would consider the Triumph for its comfort, quietness and easy performance. Then again, the Rover matches it on most of these points and gives you greatly preferable handling and roadholding. Its peaky engine can be tiresome after a while, though.


So it really comes back to that unobtrusive, effortless, if rather plain BMW 2002.


  BMW 2002 Rover 2000 TC Triumph 2.5 PI
acceleration 0-60 mph 9.2 sec 10.9 sec 10.2 sec
top speed 109 mph 107 mph 109 mph
fuel consumption overall 24 mpg 22 mpg 20 mpg


Car / UK April 1971